Tag Archives: resurrection

Resurrection in the world

In just a matter of days, we’ll come to the high point of the Christian tradition: the resurrection of Jesus. Pastors across the country will stand in the pulpit and use one of my favorite phrases–they’ll remind congregations that not just something has changed because of this resurrected Christ, everything has changed. The pastor I worked with started to talk about it last Sunday: because of the resurrection, “we are Easter people.”

Yet, I can’t help but wonder whether that resurrection life, in our current worldview, is really available to all people, not just in death, but in life.

There was an odd thread this semester connecting the two courses I taught, one on ministry with older adults and the other on young people, and it was the concept of “therapeutic culture.” For older people, this means we live in a culture that attempts to deny aging, because it smacks of weakness, failure, and bodily frailty. In our highly medicalized culture, we use therapeutic techniques to overcome these problems of the body, to fight against not just aging but also death. And we often prefer to live in the denial that we can win such a fight against time and mortality.

In contrast, in her book Chronic Youth, Julie Elman traces young people’s cultural evolution from “rebels” to “patients.” Today the same teenagers who were presumed innately rebellious and disruptive to society have become the object of therapeutic intervention and techniques. We are fascinated by the human brain, by young people’s ability to be conformed to the ideals of society and docile citizenship: the whole goal of adolescence becomes synonymous with young people being rehabilitated from their deficient youthful states to become obedient, accommodated citizens.

In theorizing adolescence through the lenses of therapeutic culture, rehabilitation, and conformity, Elman deftly shows how such a model leaves young people with disabilities behind. If they cannot be rehabilitated or conformed to suit or assimilate or accommodate to society, they cannot become capable, productive human beings.

Indeed, Elman’s work led me to puzzle through the concept and purpose of rehabilitation, which is something, as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, that I’ve always felt uneasy about. When we constantly champion therapy as hope for young people with disabilities, how do we do so in such a way that maintains their integrity as unique and important human beings? When we stress the import of rehabilitation, especially for young people who are born with disabilities, I wonder what we think or hope they are being rehabilitated to? Because there is no prior state of health to often return to, perhaps rehabilitation is a never-ending, dehumanizing pursuit? Perhaps like those who are aging, young people with disabilities become victim to a spiral of therapeutic culture that champions a certain kind of person, a certain kind of life that they can never achieve?

I’ve struggled through this puzzle for so long, because my own child has been the recipient of meaningful, dignifying therapy–the kind that has appreciated who she is and at the same time spurred her on toward substantive goals of social interaction and self-expression. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fundamentally uncomfortable or unsatisfied with rehabilitation as one of the primary metaphors through which we instinctively interrogate the lives of people with disabilities. As anthropologist Gail H. Landsman points out in her study of mothers of children with disabilities, mothers clung to hope in therapy not because they really desired to change and alter their children, but because they thought it more plausible to change their children rather than change the way the world sees them. (A really poignant essay by Maria Rohan in Motherly discusses a similar challenge.)

But this has all got me thinking that if we truly are Easter people, if we truly are the church, we don’t have to buy into the gospel of rehabilitation, because we’ve got different, more transformative gospel at the heart of our faith. Rather than rehabilitation, especially for persons born with disabilities, surely resurrection, as a process of transformation, makes more sense in this world: people with disabilities, like all of us, live within the hope and promise and process of resurrection. They are not being rehabilitated or returned to some prior pure, whole, or able-bodied state, but they, too, are being transformed, made a new, dynamic, empowered, uplifted, exalted creation in Christ.

The problem, of course, is that too often a resurrection gospel has been far too therapeutic when it comes to people with disabilities. People with disabilities are implicitly told that resurrected life is either impossible because they can’t be rehabilitated as “normal,” or only narrowly possible in the hope of a miraculous overcoming or disappearance of their disability in life after death. But this is a false and human dichotomy, coopted by able-bodied imagination, hopes, and fears. This is why theologian Nancy Eiseland gave us such a powerful insight into resurrected life when she drew our attention to the scars and the wounds that Christ still possessed when he was raised from the dead. Christ’s body, imperfectly rehabilitated, yet fully resurrected in our midst, should remind us that signs of life among Easter people may look radically different than what therapeutic culture witnesses to.

And so here I am this morning, longing again, as one is wont to do in Lent, for resurrection in a fallen world. But what I continue to pray is that God would give me the wisdom to behold resurrection, in all its complexity, grace, and abundance. For when we preach of a mere gospel of rehabilitation as Christians we sell short the transformative, life-giving work God longs to do in this world in and through all of us as vessels.

But selling short people with disabilities is not just a problem for them, it’s a problem for all of us. For in a world in which we all grow old and die, therapeutic culture will never win the victory over death that has been won on the cross, a victory that doesn’t just involve the changing of a few lives, but the very world, the conditions, the parameters and limits in which we live. And living like Easter people, in light of that reality, means living with a promise that sees and uplifts and champions life among all people. It means we get to work in ministry that resurrects rather than rehabilitates, that points to who and where God is, even when the world may struggle to understand. And in so doing, that world, especially for people with disabilities, must and will be changed.

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Inside Notre Dame, 2013. Photo by Evan Schneider.
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Holy everything

Nearly a week has passed since Christ rose from the grave, since we celebrated Easter with trumpets and sunrise, communion and hallelujahs, feast and fanfare, and I still feel resoundingly full.

It’s not just the ham that’s still in the refrigerator or the earnest celebration of new life that felt so different from the traditions of revering the ancestors and sweeping the ancestors this time of year in China.  In fact, it’s the same story, from my youth, of Jesus riding in triumphantly on the donkey, of black Friday, of brutal death on a cross, and an empty tomb.

Nothing has changed in the Biblical story, so how do I account for what feels so different, so breathless, so heavy, so alive about Easter this year?

First signs of spring on the university campus.
First signs of spring on the Princeton University campus.

Last Sunday as the pastor stood in the pulpit, she reminded us that for Christians, we have no tomb, no cross, no holy place, hill, mount, or edifice to go to pay homage to Jesus, but that we ourselves are the embodiment of the resurrection, the Living Stones (1 Peter 2), the Easter people.  There are no holy places and so in resurrection, we are made holy people.

But our pastor also stepped off a white-cloaked altar into the sea of faces dressed in their best that morning and invited us to share our joys and concerns like we do on ordinary Sundays.  We were reminded that in earnest celebration there is still loss, and fear, and pain.

I think it’s this fact that accounts for the fullness of this season for me, the fact that the communion we take symbolizes not only life, resurrection, and the miraculous, but human brokenness, betrayal, and violence.  Likewise, the Easter story we celebrate leaves the women and the disciples not only full of hope and promise, foreshadowing the incredible growth of the church in history, but also anguished by the death of their savior, and bewildered and fearful at the sight of an empty tomb, a dwindling faithful, and an impossible truth.

This Easter I’m reminded that God doesn’t change, but the resurrection changes us, often and endlessly.  

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God.  It changes me.”

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We don’t become Easter people in a flash, jubilant and freed from this world, but we become Easter people when holiness leaves the altar, the cross, the tomb, and steps firmly into our midst and settles into our bodies and life rhythms.  Our circumstances don’t necessarily change, we still look like the flawed people that we are, but we become Easter people when our hearts, our eyes look upon this world and find everything holy.  We become Easter people when we behold what is holy in one another as though we are making a pilgrimage to somewhere sacred, because the Kingdom of God is here, in you and in me.  We become Easter people when we stop parsing what’s God and what isn’t and relish that the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.  We become Easter people when death is always with us, and yet, we experience life anew.

We become Easter people each time spring and hope return to a desperate world, and we’re left full, changed, and holy.

Wow.

It’s just a few days prior to his death, and he knows it’s coming along with betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, and agony.  And yet he ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and stoops close to the ground and the filth and the earth to wash the disciples’ feet.

If that doesn’t fill you with awe, I don’t know what will.

In her latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Even though I remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that God has met Her match–a child dies or a young father is paralyzed.  Nothing can possibly make things okay again.  People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family.  Time passes.  It’s beyond bad.  It’s actually a nightmare.  But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.”

Lamott could easily have been writing a prayer of the help or thanks genre, but she’s actually describing the wow.  The wow is not that bad things don’t happen, because they do.  The wow is that “people don’t bolt” during the “beyond bad.”

My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.
My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.

Last night my husband and I went to hear blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, speak on the Princeton University campus.  He told his story of working for justice in China, his famous escape to the U.S. embassy, the lesser told tale of his family’s continued persecution, and the gory details of his nephew’s beating and imprisonment following his asylum in the United States.  While the reality of human rights abuses in China is rife with suffering, fear, and pain, Mr. Chen’s family, other activists in China, and many around the world haven’t given up.

Wow.

Over the last few days the internet has been flooded by photos of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention facility.  The new pope’s far from perfect, and his actions might not change the world, but the images move us because they speak of what it means to regard the humanity of one another in situations that are “beyond bad.”

Pope Francis kissing inmates' feet.
Pope Francis kissing inmates’ feet.

Wow.

When you really think about it Holy Week, so artfully named, was “beyond bad.”  There was really nothing good about good Friday, and there is nothing more nightmarish than the death of God.

But even in death God hasn’t met Her match.  Sometimes we forget, though, that it came to that–that death was gory for Jesus, that it was pain, and the earth plunged into darkness–that simply put, we can’t have the resurrection, the wow, the shoots of grass, without the “beyond bad,” the nightmare of the crucifixion that delivers us from sin and death.

And with all that was yet to come, he went willingly to his death.  Yet, before doing so he took their feet in his holy hands and scrubbed them like a servant.  That’s what our savior did with some of his last moments on this earth.

Sunrise in New Jersey.
Sunrise in New Jersey.

Wow.

The resurrecting in between

I remember that moment in my college studies when it was pointed out to me that history was hardly static and that periodization, the act of splicing history into reasonable, succinct bites, necessarily altered the meaning of those events it sought to contain.

Mind blown.

The stories of our own lives, our own journeys, are told and retold.  We re-imagine the significance of certain events in light of others, and every once in awhile we feel blessed to look back and see what we believe to be the hand of God.  That type of perspective is other-worldly, not because God only blessed us with bite-sized intelligence, but because God and life only lends each moment with bite-sized grace.

If you’re like me, you try to gobble grace in bigger bites.  You get really gluttonous and really greedy, and you think you could live life a bit better, certainly more faithfully, if God would just give you that kind of landscape, big-picture, historic panorama vision.  I feel like this most of the time.

All photos by Evan Schneider.
All photos by Evan Schneider.

And then there are the days when I sit in silence and listen for God, and I know, fully and with great freedom, that these seasons that supposedly lie in between that we all feel, these days of waiting, these are God’s, too.

I know this because other faithful people around me confirm it and live it, and they struggle, too.

I read a line on facebook the other morning that said, “Perspective: Abraham waited 25 years, Joseph 13 years, Moses 40 years, Jesus 30 years. If you’re in a waiting season, you’re in good company.” 

What a comfort to know that we’re not the only ones who wait and wonder and…stumble.

Just the other day I mentioned to a professor that a paper I’d written and been proud of had become a stumbling block toward developing my dissertation.  The realization of the fact was freeing–perhaps I could now move forward.  She responded differently, jubilantly, with a line I’ve never heard or thought I would, “Oh that’s good, stumbling blocks are good!” she purred.

Lotus flower

We can’t really learn anything if we don’t stumble, but we’re also remiss if we think we’re bound for a life where we stumble no more.  This morning a friend of mine told me that after a loved one died, she was told there’d be suffering, followed by healing, followed by victory.

We began to muse together that, what if while we’re stumbling, while we’re waiting, there is also resurrecting?  What if what’s in between is victory?  What if this moment isn’t between what’s next, what’s holy, and what’s God’s, but this moment accepted, embraced, and faithfully swallowed is grace incarnate?

On Wednesday I wrote that the world seems so full of saturated with pain and heartache lately I feel as if it would burst.  If anything, over the last few days the messiness of life has started to seep out of those seams with even greater gravity.  And if you’re like me, despite the above revelations, at moments like these you’ll continue to yearn for God’s panoramic vistas, you’ll be tricked into trusting in your own powers of perspective, into concluding that victory is a sham and resurrection fleeting.

But all the while you’ll have been looking to the horizon, to the mountains, onward and forward, when God was right beside you offering a hand, a shoulder, and rest for your weary head.  Friends, look around–you’re in good company, you’re already victorious, you’re being offered a sliver of grace.

Flower

So don’t miss the resurrecting in the waiting, the stumbling, in the seasons between.